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The Grass Is Always Greener

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Album Review

If Nichts Muss found Barbara Morgenstern shifting her style from indie electronic to techno-pop, her follow-up album, The Grass Is Always Greener, finds her embracing the pop aspect while backpedaling away from techno. These sorts of shifts have come to be expected from one Morgenstern album to the next, as she continually repositions herself stylistically. Yet over the course of her solo recording career, a single trajectory has been clear with each successive release: Morgenstern continues to move herself further into the spotlight, making her singing, piano playing, and songwriting the focus of her music, while steadily moving the electronics, once the emphasis of her music, into the background. As a result, she's become increasingly distinct, to the point where it's difficult to mistake her music, even her instrumentals, for that of anyone else. This in itself is an accomplishment, given the innumerable artists recording electronic music concurrently in Germany. Yet as distinct as it may be, The Grass Is Always Greener is a pop album: eight of the 12 songs are sung, with full-blown choruses, and practically all of them are driven by old-fashioned piano. As is customary for Morgenstern, the first third of the album is immediate — gripping songs with strong hooks and melodies — while the second two thirds drift between instrumentals and vocal tracks, the last third in particular meandering toward a moody finale. The key highlights are found in that first third: sequenced back to back, "The Operator" and "Polar" are as impressive as anything Morgenstern has ever released — the former a forceful synth pop confection with an absolutely driving rhythm, the latter a chilling, exceptionally melodic song that builds to a dizzy height. The Grass Is Always Greener is arguably the most impressive album Morgenstern has recorded to date, and certainly her most confident and personalized. However, its focus on vocals and piano, along with the pop-style songwriting, may alienate some who were enamored of her prior work, particularly the excellent, techno-informed Nichts Muss. And there will be those who don't care for the German-language singing, or the omnipresent piano. Clearly, The Grass Is Always Greener is not for everyone, though for those swayed by its singularity and boldness, the album is fascinating.


Born: 19 March 1971 in Hagen, Germany

Genre: Electronic

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

One of the primary producers on Gudrun Gut's Berlin-based electronic-pop label Monika Enterprise, Barbara Morgenstern creates pretty, intimate synth-pop often marked by blippy melodies, primitive drum machines, and her own German-language vocals. Following a self-released cassette and mini-album, Plastikreport (both released in 1997), she made her full-length debut in 1998 with the Vermona ET 6-1 album. Through 2000's Fjorden (which featured production by Thomas Fehlmann and Pole) and 2003's Nichts...
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The Grass Is Always Greener, Barbara Morgenstern
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